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Toxic workplace

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5 hours ago, Suzanne said:

Also, I'd like to suggest that what's happening to me is a symptom of profession-wide bullshit. I've complained to some fellow articling students, and they told me that all female articling students are treated this poorly, so I know it's not just me.

We all know that lawyers as a whole have much higher rates of mental health issues than the general population. So, if anyone wants to suggest that I'm being a wimp and should either suck it up or quit, I'd suggest that you STFU.

I know I have problems with anxiety. However, when I'm treated somewhat decently, I do good work and I'm productive. I can handle reasonable levels of conflict, such as negotiating with opposing counsel, cross examining a witness, and convincing clients to do things they don't want to do, like go to court or pay something. I've succeeded doing all those things. What I struggle with is being treated like shit. The obvious question is why don't we as a legal profession set a standard of treating each other decently, instead of telling each other to suck it up when someone yells for no reason. I've worked in several different places before law, and I was never been yelled at. Why is yelling tolerated in law firms when it is not acceptable anywhere else? I mean, I know it happens in other industries, but in other industries someone who's yelled at would be encouraged to quit, for their own well-being. I bet this is part of why we lawyers have such terrible mental health, because we have this stupid expectation that yelling is okay and must be tolerated. 

If I were treated with some decency I would not have panic attacks at work. I don't expect to be treated like a princess, just not yelled at or ranted at for things I didn't do. I would not have to spend hours trying to calm down and simply pretending to work. We as a profession are digging our own grave by allowing this bullshit to occur.

I'm still thinking of quitting. 

FWIW, I wouldn't tolerate being yelled at. I was very lucky during my articling and associate years to have excellent, professional, decent, friendly bossed. I put myself in a small firm trajectory years ago as I was attracted to the entrepreneurial side of things, but the main benefit I've reaped is having way more ability to control the environment I was going to step into. Like, before I accepted a job, I'd already pretty much met all or most of the people I'd be working with or for. With that said, obviously you haven't had the same luck. The other posters are correct insofar as they are telling you that this position will end, it may be challenging to get back on track if you leave it, etc etc, BUT, I will never agree that you should just suck it up and play with voodoo dolls when you get home. 

You deserve to be trsated with professionalism, civility, and respect. These are basic minimums that everyone is entitled to at work. Where someone is not up to scratch and can't be brought up to scratch by acting in those ways, the answer is to end their employment, not scream and yell at them. 

If you are truly at a breaking point (and getting telephone counselling, looking into therapists, thinking of quitting, and so on seems to indicate you are at least headed in that direction), then I do absolutely think it's time for a serious talk with the boss. This doesn't mean going in to "file a complaint" about his wife as it were. It does mean making an appointment, sitting down ejth him privately, and explaining that the way you are being treated is harmful to the workplace atmosphere and your productivity. 

I took on my first associate in August. I also have a family member working for me as an indispensibly incredible law clerk. We are a very busy practice, and while we keep things professional, we also try to maintain a more laid back office environment because I strongly believe after my own experiences in similar settings that it's better for everyone's mental health, productivity, and at the end of the day it just makes them want to come to work more, or st least not dread it. If your boss is alive at all to the reality of what effect his wife's behaviour is having on his business, he is going to do something positive about it. If not, and you are seriously at the end of your rope, then do what you need to do in terms of looking elsewhere. You can't sacrifice your life and your health to this kind of bullshit. 

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I, too, had a toxic articling experience. 

At one point, I just gave up and stopped working hard. After months of 100 hour weeks, I finally said fuck it and started working about 25-30 hours a week. I was at a big firm and had the luxury of slipping through the cracks.

After some time enjoying my reduced workload, I was in a better place in terms of stress, and I started working hard again. 

Part of my ability to return to focusing on work, in a healthier way, was to still, in many ways, not care. I cared about my work product. I cared about learning as much as I could. But I stopped caring about things I could not control, including hireback, but also, especially, toxic relationships. 

OP, you won’t have the luxury of slipping through the cracks, but we all have the luxury that articling is temporary. Coast to the extent you can and don’t let the rude comments and raised voices affect you. Know that they are being unreasonable and accept it. Hell, laugh at it (just not out loud). You’ll be out of there soon and you might even derive some beautifully sick pleasure in leaving them in the trenches as you move on to better things - I would. 

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Thanks for listening, everyone. I was really feeling trapped and overwhelmed. I needed to vent, let off some steam before it hurts my brain even more. 

I think I will speak up and tell the boss that the behaviour is damaging my health and killing my productivity, if there's another blow up. I can't handle the "keep your head down and keep working" method.

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On 9/7/2019 at 4:41 PM, Suzanne said:

For more background, I know the assistant is recovering from a head injury so she has issues with anxiety and being overwhelmed. That being said, I'm not her punching bag. If she can't handle work she shouldn't be at work.

This isn’t a defence of the assistant’s behaviour. But post-concussion syndrome (provided it was a concussion) can produce a lot of mood changes, including the kind of irritability and depression that can produce kinda extreme outbursts. I had a very serious concussion 10+ years ago, and didn’t have the luxury of stopping work and school while I recovered. I don’t think I actually yelled or called people names, but I was definitely unpleasant to be around for the weeks after I was discharged from hospital, and I remain grateful to the people who were supporting and accommodating to me.

I’m not trying to say you should have to tolerate abuse. You shouldn’t. But it’s possible that this is more of a one-off situation where everyone is navigating a difficult health issue while she recovers than it is reflective of a generally shitty workplace.  Maybe she’s just an abusive asshole. However, if she had what I had, your boss, presumably being the one going home with her every night, is the one taking the brunt of her behaviour. Not you. If that’s the case, I do question whether storming into his office and demanding change is going to be well-received. 

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I understand that head injuries often cause behavioural problems. However, both the boss and the assistant seem to think they can treat me however they want, because I'm the only one who gets yelled at and constantly criticized at the office. They manage to behave themselves with everyone else, but don't offer me the same courtesy. If she was a bitch to everyone, then yeah, it would appear to be a symptom of her head injury. Since she can treat everyone else at work decently she has zero excuse for yelling at me, head injury or not.

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On ‎9‎/‎22‎/‎2019 at 3:15 AM, Suzanne said:

Also, I'd like to suggest that what's happening to me is a symptom of profession-wide bullshit. I've complained to some fellow articling students, and they told me that all female articling students are treated this poorly, so I know it's not just me.

I'm still thinking of quitting. 

Articling female here - not treated poorly. I am not trying to start an argument or sound mean but too many people expect to be treated by everyone the way their parents treat them and it is just not going to happen. You need to manage your expectations.

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I wanted to say earlier:

  1. This type of bullshit is certainly not profession-wide. There are lots of good lawyers, employers, and senior support staff out there. 
  2. While I've never been a female articling student it's definitely false that "all female articling students are treated this poorly." 

We had a weird situation at my office last year where a newer member of the staff quit. In their parting letter they expressed that they felt embarrassed and belittled when a certain senior staff member would "yell at them and call them out in front of everybody." I was taken aback by this because certainly the senior staff member had never yelled at them, and had never done anything aside from tell them how to do things, perhaps sometimes in a straightforward or blunt way (the parting staff member was new to the job and had a lot to learn, although they were not particularly young). The office is small enough that if anyone raises their voice you can hear it. 

None of that is to say that the OP is being too sensitive - certainly I have absolutely no idea and I don't want to suggest that.  However, it's true that even within the realm of what is appropriate in a general sense, specific people can have their own interpretations of what is appropriate. Like, people can have very different definitions of "yelling." The lines of acceptable conduct, in a personal sense, are not universal. And things can feel very different when they are happening to you vs. when you are seeing them happen to someone else. 

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On 9/22/2019 at 3:15 AM, Suzanne said:

Also, I'd like to suggest that what's happening to me is a symptom of profession-wide bullshit. I've complained to some fellow articling students, and they told me that all female articling students are treated this poorly, so I know it's not just me.

 

I just wanted to add that this is absolutely not true, and you shouldn't believe that it is normal behavior.  I have been practicing for 7+ years, know hundreds of female law students and lawyers, and I don't know of, nor have I heard of, even one of them who was treated the way that you're describing, at any time, as a student or as a lawyer.

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I sense a pile-on building, and I want to get one more post in before it starts, hopefully bridging the constructive advice I've tried hard to give in the past with the inevitable "toughen up" advice that's coming.

There is no question that there are some generalized trends in society that are negative - towards women, towards articling students in the profession, towards many people in many different situations. It's perfectly fine to be aware of these things and to be alert for them. But at some point, if you keep encountering negative situations personally, and especially when you start to say "they are only treating me this way," you have to start looking at yourself to diagnose at least part of the problem. I was hinting in that direction earlier and now I'm going to outright say it.

You've left articles once already, found this new job, have problems at this new job, and are contemplating quitting again. I won't say you'll never get called if you do this. You seem to be relatively good at finding job at least, so hopefully you find new articles somewhere and eventually finish up. But getting called won't be your major problem here. Common to many students, you're focused on the next hurdle alone. But after that comes ... what? You won't be working at a large and organized law office right away, I can virtually guarantee it. You won't be "doing law" at some company, where you show up for work and turn on your computer and most people ignore you, the same way someone might "do supply chain management" at the same company. Aside from the fact that you're currently an articling student and you hope to become an associate lawyer, your experiences in the legal marketplace to date are largely similar to what you'll find after articling as well as before. And these problems won't go away.

It doesn't seem to have helped to focus on the experiences of small law offices, but just to emphasize one more time, you mention you've had jobs in the past and no one ever yelled at you. I don't know what jobs those were or under what conditions. But when you're working at a large company and doing non-critical work, if you aren't doing very well and even if a manager has to direct you to improve, it's very impersonal. The manager doesn't really care. She's just doing her own job too. It's not like it comes out of her pocket. At a law office, it's small business and the work you do with every client has a direct impact on your bosses' bottom line at all times. If you screw something up, I may be going home down thousands of dollars. And I don't know about the economics of these practices, but I strongly doubt you're working for rich lawyers who are using the extra money they earn just to make bigger stacks of it in their money room. That may be the vacation I hoped to take with my wife. If you imagine you can put that in jeopardy by screwing something up and have the people you work with not get agitated by it, then your expectations of the people you work for are unreasonable. It's NEVER going to be the same as that time you forgot to get someone to come fix the office copier.

I'm not advising you to work in an intolerable work environment. If you really can't manage it, and if it's damaging your mental health, then quit. But be aware of the limits and contours of the profession itself. Complaining about how it's not fair isn't helpful to you, past a certain point. There are jobs I couldn't hack under any circumstances at all either. I could never handle military discipline. I would absolutely snap. So  there's no sense saying "it's unfair I can't be a fighter pilot without dealing with all these officers yelling at me to do pushups in training." I'm just never going to be a fighter pilot. That's life. And you've got to ask yourself - are you willing to accept the realities that come along with being a lawyer? When you want to do the important work, you're dealing with people who are stressed about the work you are doing because it's important. You'll never get entirely away from that, in any work environment.

Anyway, that's about all I've got. There have been two more replies while I wrote - I suspect the pile on is coming already. Bottom line is this. Without even taking a firm position on whether you are "right" or "wrong" in this, you can control how you respond but you can't control how other people act. If you want to deal with these things that keep happening in a reliable way, you've got to work with factors that are in your control rather than things that aren't. The people who are giving you this advice aren't blind or conditioned to accept abuse or unsympathetic. We're just lawyers conditioned to find solutions rather than offer empty sympathy. And the solutions that are definitely available to you all contain an element of "toughen up" advice. I know you must hate hearing it, but there it is.

Good luck.

Edited by Diplock
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It seems like your boss runs the firm like a little fiefdom and treats you like a serf. But it also sounds like you have some cognitive distortions (e.g. "all female articling students are treated this way"; "boiling with rage"), and are unable to set effective boundaries. 

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On 9/21/2019 at 10:26 PM, Suzanne said:

and they'd get off scot free, minus maybe some pay in lieu of notice. 

I am trying to be on your side here - but I wonder if you have put any energy into researching the legal predicament you are in?

If you can't do it for yourself, maybe they have a point?

- not the yelling though, that is never called for.

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I am glad several of you assure me it's not normal to be yelled at. As long as there's hope of finding a firm with reasonable people (not perfect, just reasonable) I'll hang on and keep looking for a job post-articling. I am still concerned about the number of people, in this thread and real life, who advised me to keep my mouth shut rather than speak up for myself. That's messed up that there's no accountability for these people.

Also, f you to everyone who says my expectations are too high. All I'm asking is to not be called names and screamed at, especially for things that have nothing to do with me. Yes, I can tell the difference between a stern, raised voice and screeching at the top of one's lungs.

Edited by Suzanne
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52 minutes ago, Suzanne said:

I am still concerned about the number of people, in this thread and real life, who advised me to keep my mouth shut rather than speak up for myself. That's messed up that there's no accountability for these people.

I'd agree that it's messed up that there isn't more accountability for firms that subject their employees -- particularly articling students, whose vulnerability can be heightened by the need to article vis-a-vis a regular employee -- to abuse. I don't see anyone disagreeing with you on that. And, while it's not totally the same, the Doroshenko case highlighted that abusive work environments exist in this profession, especially for women. 

I think people here (being lawyers) are sorta just doing the analysis in their heads, and wondering what the practical resolution to your problem will be, if you escalate the issue further. Setting boundaries that allow you to finish articling with your sanity intact would probably be best. But, that doesn't seemed to have happened. Escalating internally? Maybe, but given that you've mentioned that your principal treats you poorly, it's hard to say that's going to work.

Beyond that, you're into a full blown complaint/application scenario, where you'd need to undertake all the usual legal questions, like forum choice, merit assessment, and consideration of what remedies you'd be seeking. Remedies are possible. Ms. Ojanen's counterclaim ensured some consequences for Mr. Doroshenko. But the damages were pretty low. And, at the end of the day, he's a lawyer and she still hasn't satisfied the experiential requirement of the licensing process. 

I wouldn't agree that your expectations are too high -- at least not in a normative sense. No employee should be yelled at. It's just that my thought, and I'm just echoing others, is that if you're serious about getting called, leaving this position without a new position or blowing it up through complaints, is unlikely to further your goal of becoming a lawyer. I think you know that: you've said you're looking for something else, and seem to be taking the decision of whether to stay or go seriously.

I think it's more just what I have to tell my clients a lot: I can't think of a perfect solution for you. If I could, I would've suggested it by now. Your situation is shitty. So all I can really offer is my sympathies that your entry into the profession has been so rocky, and my best wishes in finding a new articling position / grinding it out where you are. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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5 hours ago, Suzanne said:

I am glad several of you assure me it's not normal to be yelled at. As long as there's hope of finding a firm with reasonable people (not perfect, just reasonable) I'll hang on and keep looking for a job post-articling. I am still concerned about the number of people, in this thread and real life, who advised me to keep my mouth shut rather than speak up for myself. That's messed up that there's no accountability for these people.

Also, f you to everyone who says my expectations are too high. All I'm asking is to not be called names and screamed at, especially for things that have nothing to do with me. Yes, I can tell the difference between a stern, raised voice and screeching at the top of one's lungs.

Sorry but the more you post, the less credible you seem. It's bizarre that this quoted post is your takeaway from all of the general and realistic advice/support in this thread. I don't think the thrust of a single reply to you in this thread was that your "expectations are too high". I don't think the main thrust of any replies were that you should "keep your mouth shut rather than speak up for yourself" (some people said "that sucks, keep your head down to get through this and become a lawyer" which is not the same). 

@Eeee used the term "cognitive distortions" and it seems fitting to me now. Maybe this is too bold but, from the comfort of my anonymity and without actually knowing you, I will say that I really think you need to look inward. I think your perceptions and reactions are a fundamental factor in these problems that, from your position, seem to just be happening to you. I would guess that you'll continue to encounter issues with other people in future job settings until you start to take some more personal responsibility regarding the nature of your interactions with other people. 

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On 9/7/2019 at 1:41 PM, Suzanne said:

Hi all,

I need some advice with my articling workplace.

Any suggestions? 

 

On 9/24/2019 at 1:41 PM, Suzanne said:

Also, f you to everyone who says my expectations are too high.

 

On 9/24/2019 at 7:27 PM, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Sorry but the more you post, the less credible you seem.

You came here looking for advice, then say "f you" for that advice, so I would have to agree with what BringBackCrunchBerries is saying.

Also, please try to remember that explanation does not equal exoneration. Just because someone tells you that x "is the way it is" does not mean they are excusing x. Lawyering and related subfields is an incredibly stressful career area and a lot of people do not handle that stress very well, hence the overwhelming substance abuse issues prevalent in the profession. Some people handle their stress by abusing drugs or alcohol; others by taking it out on those around them. It is what it is and the sooner you understand that, the better off you will be. Is it acceptable? No. Does it happen? Obviously. Is there anything you can do about it? Only at the expense of your own future. Does it suck? You bet it does.

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On 9/24/2019 at 5:41 PM, Suzanne said:

I am glad several of you assure me it's not normal to be yelled at. As long as there's hope of finding a firm with reasonable people (not perfect, just reasonable) I'll hang on and keep looking for a job post-articling. I am still concerned about the number of people, in this thread and real life, who advised me to keep my mouth shut rather than speak up for myself. That's messed up that there's no accountability for these people.

Also, f you to everyone who says my expectations are too high. All I'm asking is to not be called names and screamed at, especially for things that have nothing to do with me. Yes, I can tell the difference between a stern, raised voice and screeching at the top of one's lungs.

I agree with everything you've said in this post. One of my very dear friends went through an extraordinarily terrible articling experience. She was belittled, screamed at, and harassed by persons who ought to have known better, or did know better and felt that their position of power made them immune to criticism or retribution. 

That person was fired. That isn't an option in your case. 

It isn't fair to ask you to be the bigger person, to keep quiet and soldier on. It isn't. I don't know what other options you have, but I sincerely hope you make it through. 

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Well, continuing my previous comment in this thread, it is not normal to be treated like shit, although, as an adult you are now responsible for the trajectory of your career. And there really is nothing left to say about your toxic workplace that hasn't been covered to death here. Without knowing the full details, except what you've communicated in this thread, at this point it is time to actually decide whether you are going to stay or quit. Again, I would be gobsmacked if situation at work became less toxic because -- at this point -- there is a pattern of behavior and a lack of improvement. So, if you're going to stay, be ready for more of the same. However, I don't think its productive to generalize the issues you are facing to the entire profession, though. What is happening to your friends has nothing to do with how you are going to solve your own problem. Contrary to some other comments in this thread, I think students are too willing to deal with crap because they are worried about a tight market, and whether they can get another job. There is no point in taking what you can get, if what you got won't prepare you to be a good lawyer, and if it kills your interest in the same. 

Now as an aside rant, one take-away from this thread for me is that I will never work as a junior  at a small firm, and I'm glad I never have, although I've worked in numerous small in-house legal departments. At the risk of offending nearly everyone, I don't think I will ever understand the small firm mentality where sole practitioners think it is appropriate to download their business risks and stressors onto students. I don't give a fuck that you are stressed about making payroll in a difficult work environment (of your own choosing), have some common decency and stop pretending that it is your duty to welcome students to your self-generated school of hard knocks. It really is unbelievable to me that people in this thread are actually defending the conduct of a terrible boss. The fact that the legal field appears have about the same amount of dinosaurs as in the oil sands, with a resolute commitment to fossilized ideas of how a workplace should function, doesn't somehow excuse those ideas. While OP does come off as somewhat naive, and quite emotional (for good reason), blaming the victim is not acceptable to me. 

Edited by adVenture
Edited: a word.
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9 minutes ago, adVenture said:

Now as an aside rant, one take-away from this thread for me is that I will never work as a junior  at a small firm, and I'm glad I never have, although I've worked in numerous small in-house legal departments. At the risk of offending nearly everyone, I don't think I will ever understand the small firm mentality where sole practitioners think it is appropriate to download their business risks and stressors onto students. I don't give a fuck that you are stressed about making payroll in a difficult work environment (of your own choosing), have some common decency and stop pretending that it is your duty to welcome students to your self-generated school of hard knocks. It really is unbelievable to me that people in this thread are actually defending the conduct of a terrible boss. The fact that the legal field appears have about the same amount of dinosaurs as in the oil sands, with a resolute commitment to fossilized ideas of how a workplace should function, doesn't somehow excuse those ideas. While OP does come off as somewhat naive, and quite emotional (for good reason), blaming the victim is not acceptable to me. 

1. I think what you are describing about small firms / soles and students is just incredibly rare. Yes, some of the articling horror stories come from smaller firms / soles where the lawyer in question is all around awful. Yes, the notorious zero salary articling "jobs" tend to be student exploitation by soles or small firms. But the vast majority of soles will simply never hire a student because it would never make sense for their business. The large majority of the soles or small firms that actually do hire students give them positive experiences, from everything I've seen. Also, downloading crud onto students is certainly a feature of many Big Law student experiences!

2. Has anybody defended the boss? I don't think a single person did. 

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1 hour ago, adVenture said:

Now as an aside rant, one take-away from this thread for me is that I will never work as a junior  at a small firm, and I'm glad I never have, although I've worked in numerous small in-house legal departments. At the risk of offending nearly everyone, I don't think I will ever understand the small firm mentality where sole practitioners think it is appropriate to download their business risks and stressors onto students. I don't give a fuck that you are stressed about making payroll in a difficult work environment (of your own choosing), have some common decency and stop pretending that it is your duty to welcome students to your self-generated school of hard knocks. It really is unbelievable to me that people in this thread are actually defending the conduct of a terrible boss. The fact that the legal field appears have about the same amount of dinosaurs as in the oil sands, with a resolute commitment to fossilized ideas of how a workplace should function, doesn't somehow excuse those ideas. While OP does come off as somewhat naive, and quite emotional (for good reason), blaming the victim is not acceptable to me. 

I agree with BringBackCrunchBerries. I work at a small firm and we have a very nice atmosphere.

A small firm is heavily influenced by the few personalities in it. If the boss is difficult and unpleasant, the whole office becomes difficult and unpleasant. If the boss is decent and kind, then the office is decent and kind. But there's nothing about small firms that creates an intrinsically negative atmosphere.

In a big firm, the variety of personalities can potentially defuse the effects of a few bad apples. On the other hand, you might just have a - forgive my language - clusterf*** of antisocial neurotics. The firm culture is created by a large collective rather than just an individual or a few individuals, but again that structure doesn't necessarily create an intrinsically positive or negative atmosphere.

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I articled at a very large firm.

There were some miserable partners that everyone tried to steer clear of- they yelled, they belittled, one was the most condescending prick I have ever had the misfortune to meet to this day.  However, no one said a word about their bs - seemed billing counted for more than student emotional well being.

Not saying it was or is right, but it is a thing... some lawyers are aholes.  

The big difference being that I had other students I confide in and we could all agree about the Aholedness of said partner and commiserate.  Also, the aholes were a very small population of a very big office.  The other 99% were fantastic people who were amazing to work with.

Things may have changed in the intervening years - but I doubt very much that this is a big firm/little firm phenomena.

The reason you hear about it more from small firms may be:

a) there are more lawyers practicing in small firms;

b) students in small firms don't have a cohort of others nearby to talk to so end up here; 

c) there is a conformist bent to a lot of us that selected big firm - to publicly state that you ended up with a dud would be a big come down; and

d) in a large firm you can see for yourself that not every partner is an ahole.

 

 

 

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